Wes Anderson is by far my favorite director. I just think he’s the bee’s knees. But why do I think so? What does he have that others don’t? In the blogpost below I will try to shed some light on the reason for my adoration. Don’t worry, many more posts will follow and they will clarify – hopefully – why Anderson deserves to be called the ironic and sincere director of our generation.
Is Anderson finally becoming successful?
With his last film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012), director Wes Anderson(1969) finally seems to receive the attention and respect he deserves. Moonrise Kingdom, being the opening film at the Cannes International Film Festival, has caused quite some media attention, and his fans, overjoyed with this acknowledgement of Anderson’s talent, encouraged it by writing reviews and blog posts on the subject. His most successful film at the box office up until now has given rise to many reactions from both the camp of his lifelong fans, as well as from the skeptics. These last few months, Moonrise Kingdom could not be ignored. Many reviews call his latest film his best work and ample evidence of his geniality. It exhibits all stylistic and thematic features Anderson is known for, but, according to critics and reviewers, in an even more perfected manner. Although Anderson’s latest work still has not reached the masses, it has conquered many children’s, adolescents’, and adults’ hearts. This success will hopefully gain him a broader audience and transfer to his next films. Anderson has not been resting on his laurels in the aftermath of Moonrise Kingdom, but is already planning his next move. His next feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, will be starring Hollywood legend Johnny Depp and one of Anderson’s regulars, Owen Wilson. Although the plot is still unknown, it is said to be a “European story” (Rosen).
Anderson, the Quirky director
Describing Anderson’s cinema means using several contradictions and ambiguities for he is not a clear-cut director, nor is it possible to place him into one box. The term most fitting to describe him is “Quirky”, although many critics dislike the term for its status as a buzz-word. Yet, the elucidation of quirky MacDowell provides has proven to be useful in analyzing Anderson’s work (he has written a great article called “Notes on Quirky” which you can read here: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/film/movie/contents/notes_on_quirky.pdf).
Anderson, a new kind of Auteur!
In terms of authorship, Anderson is an example of the new generation of auteurs who emphasize the importance of a supporting cast and crew, as well as a supporting audience. Anderson’s projects could thus be seen as collective film productions for he stresses the necessity of competent and inspiring contributors. On the other hand is he a dictatorial director who is involved in every phase of his films and thus fulfills the cliché of the solitary genius as well. Furthermore, Anderson is very aware of the debate around authorship in which he participates actively by providing extracinematic material such as documentaries, interviews – which may or may not have been set-up, advertisements, and the article he wrote about his visit to Pauline Kael. Through this material he constructs his own persona, which is that of a quirky cinéphile and a shy schoolboy. His efforts – as well as his films an sich – have gained him a cult audience which actively blogs, makes fan art, and spreads the word any way they see possible.
Anderson, who is the writer, director, and producer of his films meets the requirements of an auteur because he uses his camera as if it were a pen. The comparison with J.D. Salinger (I will dedicate a blogpost on this subject later on) shows that their works are not only similar thematically, but also narratologically and in the field of characterization. Anderson’s mise-en-scène translates his themes and tones perfectly. He employs – often semi-photographic – images as narrators and in his cinematic world, everything is in its place. His style is thus homogenous in the sense that everything adds up and supplements each other.
Pauline Kael and the boys
Pauline Kael’s criticism relating to the authors’ male fantasies and schoolboy mind hints at Anderson’s fondness of childhood experiences as inspirations for his tales. His often narcissistic male – as well as female – heroes are either children or adolescents, or adults who regress into childhood. Because of this, Anderson’s films breathe a longing for childish adventure, mischievousness, innocence and simplicity. In her famous article Circles and Squares, Kael describes auteur theory as “an attempt by adult males to justify staying inside the small range of experience of their boyhood and adolescence”, implying that the auteur film is not a work of art, but more like a children’s drawing (119). This comparison says something about Anderson’s films, however, the technical competence and personal view exhibited in his cinema is not that of a child, but that of a capable grown-man who knows exactly how to resemble his films with childhood fantasies.
Anderson & Zissou, the self-branded auteurs
But Anderson’s authorship is not entirely unambiguous. In his film, The Life Aquatic, Anderson presents an auteur who has constructed his own persona and turned his name into a brand at the expense of his credibility. The notion of self-constructed authorship seems to be criticized and mocked here whereas Anderson himself is a constructed auteur himself. Construction, however, as history has proven, does not necessarily mean that the authorship is fake. The mistake Zissou makes, and which Anderson tries to avoid, is to make it “The Zissou Show”, instead of “The Team Zissou Show”. Anderson proves, in his films, but also in his approach to authorship, that one can remain an individual, creative genius within a community or a team.
Anderson’s cinematic influences such as Orson Welles, J.D. Salinger, The French New Wave (Truffaut, Godard and Malle), Charlie Brown, Mike Nichols and the early seventies film characters of Bud Cort have presented Anderson with inspirational misfit characters or people past their prime, interesting narration, a deadpan comic style, innovative and bold stylistic choices, self-reflexivity, irony & disaffection, an aversion to phoniness, a celebration of sincerity and morality, and youthful enthusiasm.
Anderson and his likeminded contemporary Indie auteurs are not only similar to the French New Wave or the writer of tragicomic fiction, J.D. Salinger regarding their authorial status, but also in their response to the new emerging youth cultures. The youngsters of Generation Y, following Gen X, are fond of Anderson’s films because they recognize themselves in them. Like Anderson’s heroes, they arrest their development by living at home longer than any generation before them. Not even learning how to drive, they remain “children” as long as possible. They long to belong, but also to be interesting and unique. As studies have proven, their “nesting” habit and dependence on their parents actually helps them to develop a strong personality, a close bond with their parents, and thus a feeling of being supported and cared for. Communication and community are valued highly by Generation Y and despite their acknowledgment of the problematic financial, political, and global warming situations, they remain hopeful for the future.
Personal politics & moral values
Although Anderson’s films are called apolitical and asocial, they exhibit a great deal of personal politics and moral values. The inherent connection in human emotions between pain and humor are reflected in the cinema of Anderson by means of the contradicting presence of irony and disaffection on the one hand, and optimism and sincerity on the other. Anderson is both critical of his heroes for their disaffection and self-absorption, but feels at the same time a great sympathy for them, and believes in their goals and dreams. He shows his characters and his audience how to be your wacky, quixotic, and unique self within community instead of fighting against the windmills.
These features place him in the tradition of Indiewood, the new American smart film, New Sincerity, and the Quirky. Especially this last sensibility captures Anderson’s unique formula of absurd slapstick comedy, empathic comedy of embarrassment and distancing deadpan. Another feature typical of the Indie sensibility is its self-referentiality. A characteristic translated in Anderson’s cinema in an overly presentational style and heavy alluding to cinematic heroes, constantly reminding the audience of its fictional existence.
The world needs dreamers
Anderson’s choice of sweet pop songs and retro rock songs, the soundtrack of innocence, are an indispensable characteristic of his cinema. Ebbing and flowing between melancholy and pure joy, they give his shots emotional depth and nuance. Upbeat, cheerful, but also nostalgic and melancholic, just like Anderson’s cinema.
In conclusion, it is Anderson’s mixture of all these things plus some secret ingredients – interior meaning? – that prove his uniqueness, relevance, authorship, and innovativeness in the rapid changing world of Generation Y. It is safe to say that we need Anderson’s quirky cinema, for “the world needs dreamers” (Bottle Rocket).
Part 2? Wes Anderson, the Auteur of our Generation